How Many Hispanic American Women Have Diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes is a serious health concern for Hispanic American women. One-quarter or 25 percent of Hispanic American women have been diagnosed with diabetes. Within the Hispanic American population, diabetes is more prevalent in women than it is in men. The following chart details the percentage of diabetes in Hispanic American women compared to men.

Percent of Hispanic Americans with Diabetes
by Age and Gender.

Age Group
20 years
20-39 years
40-49 years
50-59 years
60-74 years
75+ years

Diabetes includes both previously diagnosed diabetes and undiagnosed diabetes (indicated through fasting plasma glucose levels)

Are Many Hispanic American Women Dying From Diabetes?

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About 33.3 percent of deaths among Hispanic American women list diabetes as the underlying cause. This rate has risen rapidly in the 30-year period from 1958 to 1987: 15.7 to 33.3 percent in New Mexico. And this rate does not include diabetes as a secondary cause of death, such when death is due to a stroke caused by the diabetes.

Why Do So Many Hispanic American Women Have Diabetes?

The incidence rates are higher in Hispanic American women than in non-Hispanic white women because Hispanics have more risk factors for diabetes. The first cause is genetics, which means that the disease tends to reoccur in the same population as people marry and have children within that population. Following that logic, Mexican Americans with parents who have diabetes are twice as likely to develop the disease.

Another major risk factor is obesity. Forty-seven percent of Mexican American women are overweight, compared with only 33 percent of non-Hispanic white women. Impaired glucose tolerance has also been seen in 19 percent of Mexican Americans compared with only 15 percent in non-Hispanic whites. Insulin resistance levels were also higher in Mexican Americans.

How Does Diabetes Affect Hispanic American Women?

Hispanic Americans are at higher risk for retinopathy (eye disease) and kidney disease (including end-stage kidney failure), but have lower rates of heart disease due to diabetes. In fact, the incidence of retinopathy is two times higher in Hispanic Americans than in non-Hispanic whites. Women also have higher complication rates: 50 percent higher than men for diabetic ketoacidosis (also called diabetic coma). Hispanic American women with diabetes are 7.6 times more likely to develop peripheral vascular disease (problems with blood flow in the veins) than non-diabetic women, and three-to-four times more likely to have heart disease or a stroke.

How Does Diabetes Affect Hispanic American Women During Pregnancy?

Pregnant Hispanic American women with type 2 diabetes are at an increased risk of having babies with birth defects and are at risk of developing toxemia, a condition that endangers the lives of both the mother and the infant.

About 2 to 5 percent of all pregnant women develop gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy). Mexican American women, especially when they are overweight, have higher rates of gestational diabetes than non-Hispanic white women. Gestational diabetesincreases the baby's risk for problems such as macrosomia (large body size) and neonatal hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).

Although women's blood glucose levels generally return to normal after childbirth, an increased risk of developing gestational diabetes in future pregnancies remains. In addition, studies show that many women with gestational diabetes will develop type 2 diabetes later in life. Experts estimate that about half of women with gestational diabetes develop type 2 diabetes within 20 years of the pregnancy. For Mexican American women, this may be as great as 12 percent per year.9

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How Can Hispanic American Women Manage Diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes is usually treated with diet control, exercise, home blood glucose testing, and, in some cases, oral medication and/or insulin. Approximately 40 percent of people with type 2 diabetes require insulin injections. The most successful plan for preventing diabetes is to maintain normal blood glucose levels through exercise and a balanced, low-fat diet.

April 2001: Office on Women’s Health